It’s that time of the year again…time to talk all things National Novel Writing Month. It feels strange to be writing a blog about NaNoWriMo while the world continues to fall apart around us. But as many wiser authors have said before me, one of the best ways to get ideas, conversations, and solutions out into the world is by writing books. So with that said: who’s in for NaNoWriMo this year?
In case you don't live on Twitter, National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo) is this strange time when a whole bunch of writers across the country all try to write a novel in a month. It happens in November. I imagine a good portion of the country stops sleeping. I’ve done NaNo before, and it’s an amazing experience. While it intermittently makes me want to stick needles in my eyes, it definitely pushes you to build your writing discipline and hold yourself to deadlines. I wasn’t going to do NaNo this year because I accidentally sort of just did my own NaNo in September…a muse attacked, which is basically the best thing that can happen to a writer, and I churned out more writing than I had in months. BUT THEN. This idea for the sequel came to me.
So I think I’m going to try writing that sequel in November.
Right now I’m in what I call “NaNo prep mode,” which is basically where I spend a few weeks obsessing about all the ways I can pre-plan my NaNo project in order to make the experience better. You know, so I can throw the whole plan out in the first week of November when I decide it isn’t working. Super productive, right?
Anyway, in case you too are a writing masochist and are considering taking on NaNo this year, here are some things I like to have planned ahead of time.
1. Character sketches
When one is trying to write 50,000 words in a month, one hardly wants to waste time figuring out what color hair their MC has. One’s time would be better spent figuring out why one is referring to oneself with such a ridiculous pronoun.
2. General plot outlines
I’m not talking a detailed chapter-by-chapter summary here, unless that’s how your brain rolls. My brain works well in acts, so right now I’m just sketching out the general arc for the three acts of my novel. Obviously things will change as I go, but at least I’ll have some general directions to steer my characters in while I’m sobbing over my computer every morning.
3. A writing schedule and goals
Writing 50k in a month can feel overwhelming if you haven’t broken down how you’re going to tackle that on a daily or weekly basis. Are you going to shoot for 2k a day every day? 13k every weekend? 5k three times a week? It helps me to plan what my smaller writing goals are and then block the days and times on the calendar when I will be doing nothing but frantically typing. Obviously I can’t stick to the same schedule every single week—Thanksgiving is the great interrupter of NaNo schedules everywhere—but if I know my word deadlines for each week, I know I can always adjust my writing times and days accordingly.
4. Ice cream deliveries
I love NaNo, but it can be a rough go if the muses aren’t working in your favor. It definitely forces you to put your characters on paper when they just don’t want to be there. So stock up on whatever gets you through the rough times, and don't be afraid to up your calorie intake where necessary.
I am basically a non-functioning human if someone isn’t holding me accountable for my goals, so I know I need wider accountability when I launch projects like this. With some projects, I’ve sent my weekly writing to a friend on certain days. Some people join NaNo groups where everyone posts and shares their word counts on a regular basis. Between Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and Insta, there is no shortage of places where you can publicly or privately share your writing goals with others and give yourself some accountability.
This time, I’m trying out a different type of accountability: I’m holding myself accountable through this blog. A few times a week I’ll update here with my progress (or lack thereof). Because for some reason right now it seems like a great idea to add more writing on top of my NaNo goals themselves. We’ll see how long that feeling lasts.
So, who’s in? Join the masochism and finally write that novel you've been talking about writing for months. Come NaNo with us, and in December we can all whine together about what a terrible idea it was.
Fall is kind of the worst.
I admire people who love fall. I don’t understand them, but I admire them. I wish I was one of those people who loved fall. I wish I loved sweaters and boots and scarves and cinnamon and pumpkin and yellow leaves as much as the average American seems to. I’m from Vermont, for goodness’ sake. Early on in life the Vermont Tourism Board drips into our blood, via pints of maple syrup, the assertion that we must love fall.
Didn’t work on me, though.
I remember, as a young child, dreading the first change of leaves on the trees near my house. Yellow leaves meant one thing: summer was coming to an end. Soon there would be no more swimming, no more hot sunny days, no more long hours of reading and running to my heart’s content. Changing leaves meant that soon I’d be waiting for the school bus in the dark while wrapped up in at least three layers of sweaters and coats. Soon I’d be milking cows in below-freezing temperatures (it’s about as fun as it sounds). Soon I’d be walking through three-foot snow drifts on a fairly regular basis, trying desperately—and always unsuccessfully—to keep my socks dry.
I live in Colorado now, where winter isn’t quite as ominous as it was in Vermont. Sun actually makes some appearances between the months of October and April, and snow doesn’t stubbornly refuse to ever leave again once it appears on the ground. Still, I think I will forever associate fall with what the season actually symbolizes: death. Death of long, bright days and beautiful gardens. Death of shimmering lakes and days spent reading in front of them. Death of paddleboarding and camping. Death death death death death.
I know--I'm not exactly rolling in cheer today. But in my defense, I tried to turn our heat on this morning and nothing happened. So now I've got a space heater trained on me while I type and I'm crossing my fingers that the HVAC people can squeeze us in somewhere between all the other people who were dropped into this needlessly frigid season with a furnace that decided to take a very unfortunately-timed vacation.
This year I decided to try and embrace fall. I learned to make homemade applesauce with the apples that have been falling incessantly off the tree in our backyard. I made my own butternut squash soup with the squash from my husband’s garden. I’ve been trying to enjoy pulling sweaters out of the back of my closet again and wearing them for the first time in months. I have tickets to see a hockey game this week. See? I keep subconsciously trying to remind myself. You like fall things! Fall WILL be fun this year!
So far? No dice. I still don’t like this season. I'm cold, it's already getting dark and it's not even six o'clock, soup is great but I can eat soup in the summer if I want, and hockey is always exciting, but why do I have to drive through the early fall snowstorm that’s predicted for this weekend just to get home from the game?
Please tell me, fall fans, because I just don’t get it: how is pumpkin spice worth any of this trouble?
Have you seen this poll? The one referenced in the picture above? The one that says only 55% of people between the ages of 30 and 49 will vote this November?
Every fall there's a lot of talk about whether or not people in the 18-29 age bracket are going to vote in the upcoming election. Will the millennials show up? Are the young people finally going to bring their avocado toast with them to the polls?* It’s an important conversation. And if you’re between the ages of 18 and 29, you should definitely vote this year. But I’d like to shift the conversation for just a minute and talk about my age bracket: hello, everyone between the ages of 30 and 49.
First of all, if you’re in my bracket, congratulations on surviving the switch-over from AOL to SnapChat. These last twenty years have been nuts, am I right? Also, hi, weren’t we all just watching a Supreme Court nominee defend themselves against sexual misconduct allegations like five minutes ago? Never mind, I was actually a little kid. But there are definitely a lot of oddities that come with being part of this generation, whatever the heck people are calling us these days. And here’s one more oddity for us all to consider: only 55% of us are predicted to vote in the midterms this year.
When I see statistics like this, I feel the urge to parse why only a little more than half of people in my age bracket are voting. Shouldn’t we be the voters? The ones every politician wants in their back pocket? Shouldn’t we be showing up in droves? We’re the ones who are raising kids and Border Collies and trying to make house payments. We’ve got a lot to lose and a lot to gain from every election. So why are only 55% of us bothering with the process?
I have theories. I am curious if any of them could be right.
Theory #1: Middle child syndrome
The over-fifties get all the credit for showing up to vote (Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!) and the millennials are all over every news broadcast while people try to figure out how to get them to register. (Cindy, your pigtails are ugly.) But no one ever pays any attention to us. Do we not vote because no one ever reminds us to? Because no one ever seems to notice if we do or not?
Poor, poor Jans.
Theory #2: We’re still trying to figure out where we fit into America
This theory might get a little bit on the existential side, so bear with me. We, thirty to forty-niners, are the generation that had to make the inevitable transition from Oregon Trail to iPads. We’re the ones with feet in several different worlds. None of us know what it’s like to grow up without technology, and none of us know what it’s like to grow up completely immersed it in. In a way, we have always lived in a strange go-between of the two places.
In a world where politics has been entirely rewritten by the changing face of technology, we’ve always just been sort of along for the ride. I wonder if that’s left some of us unsure how to navigate things like political conversations and opinions. I’m still trying to figure out what my Facebook ratio of cats to recipes to politics is supposed be, and I didn’t even get a chance to figure it out with MySpace before that poor thing bit the dust. Is it possible that many of us stay out of politics because it’s just one more thing that’s hard to navigate across a scope of societal changes we had to lead the charge on?
Theory #3: We started complacent, so we stay complacent
I sometimes wonder if our voting apathy has something to do with the time period we all grew up in. 9/11 changed the political face of the country, and before that, the politics of the 80s and 90s had a different tone and different implications. Student loans didn’t look the way they do now, and neither did mortgages. That was also the golden age of “we’re post-racial,” so issues like racism and classism were often ignored despite the insane amounts of institutional racism and classism which permeated both decades. I wonder: is it possible that a lot of us--especially those of us who are white and were either working, middle, or upper class at the time--weren’t incentivized to care about politics when we were younger, and we’ve never been able to pick up the habit of caring? Or am I completely off here? Did all of us care more than I think we did back then, and now we’ve just given up?
In the end, I do not know why only 55% of people around my age will probably vote this coming November. Maybe every single one of these theories is off. But I wish I understood why, as the country begs and pleads my college students to vote, more of my own peers don’t show up at the polls.**
*For the record, I absolutely love avocado toast.
**If you’ve got ideas, share ‘em. Then we can all sit around and play Oregon Trail afterward, right before we update our voter registration together.